Without a provisional starting spot to fall back on, Blaney and his No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion had to be fast enough to earn a starting spot for NASCAR’s Memorial Day weekend classic.
He and the team came through when it counted as Blaney turned the 15th fastest lap of the opening segment of knock-out qualifying. His lap at 191.605 miles per hour was plenty fast to earn a starting spot and good enough to allow him to advance to round 2 of qualifying. He improved his speed to 191.666 mph but wound up with the 16th starting spot for Sunday’s 600-miler.
Blaney said he was a little disappointed in the qualifying results but plenty optimistic about Sunday’s race, his first appearance in the Coca-Cola 600.
“We were just tight,” he said of his qualifying run, adding that his Jeremy Bullins-led crew improved the performance of his No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion throughout the day on Thursday. “They made good gains on it from practice to qualifying, but it just wasn’t enough.”
But, he added, there are still two practice sessions on Saturday to fine tune his car for Sunday.
“We’ve got a good spot to go to work on Saturday for race runs,” he said. “We’ve got a decent starting spot. We can make it up.”
For the Wood Brothers family and the people of their hometown of Stuart, Va., having the No. 21 Fusion in the starting field is a relief. That means the team can properly honor Marine Cpl. Jonathan Bowling as part of NASCAR’s 600 Miles of Remembrance.
Bowling, who died Jan. 26, 2005, in the Al Anbra Province of Iraq when a rocket-propelled grenade struck his Humvee in the line of duty, was a close friend of the Wood family, and his great-uncle Chris Williams was Glen Wood’s original partner in the Wood Brothers race team.
“We wouldn’t have been able to properly honor Jon if we had missed the race,” Eddie Wood said. “His family will be there on Sunday to be with us and we are honored to have them here.”
“Honoring Jon Bowling is what this weekend is about.”
The Coca-Cola 600 is set to get the green flag just after 6 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX.